Contradictions on the "Tell-Tale Heart' by Edgar Allen Poe

Essay by jpm0621High School, 11th gradeA+, January 2004

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§One contradiction that the perceptive reader catches is the following. The narrator first tells us that he spies on the old man at night. He eerily stares at the old man while he sleeps: "It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed" (Poe 291). This clearly implies that the narrator can see his future victim: "I could see him as he lay upon his bed." But then the narrator tells us that although the victim awakes startled, the narrator simply stood his ground in the doorway since "His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness...and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door..." (Poe 292). This implies that the room and hallway are pitch black, which means that neither the victim nor the predator can see anything - without light.

So the narrator can both see and not see his victim. This carefully concealed contradiction shows that the narration itself is unstable, just as the narrator's mind is.

§Another contradiction can be found in the second paragraph of the story. The narrator says, "It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain" (Poe 290). This suggests that the narrator was clueless as to how he thought up of the idea of killing the old man. It is saying that it was not his decision, and implying that he was never thinking about it. Later in the paragraph though, he says "by degrees--very gradually--[he] made up [his] mind to take the life of the old man" (Poe 290). This contradicts the previous quote. First, he says that it was not his decision, but in the latter quote, the...